How to Choose Tomorrow’s Leaders

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By AMA Staff

John Mattone is the president of John Mattone Partners Incorporated, a global leadership consulting firm. He is the author of Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential and Talent Leadership: A Proven Method for Identifying and Developing High-Potential Employees, both published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. He also teaches in the executive MBA program at Florida Atlantic University. Mattone recently spoke to AMA for an Edgewise podcast.

AMA: What’s the difference between talent management and talent leadership?
John Mattone: In my most recent study we surveyed and interviewed 150 CEOs and VPs of HR and VPs of talent management from companies across the globe. We asked them a lot of questions, but I think the most interesting question that we posed was, “What is the one leadership development talent management issue that is keeping you up at night?” The number one answer by far was that we need to identify and develop our future leaders. It’s interesting; I’ve always known this, but it’s always important to get that corroborative evidence that only the research can provide.

Picture this: You’re the CEO of a typical organization, anywhere in world—except maybe India, some countries in Africa, and South America—and you’ve got a couple of significant issues that you’ve got to deal with. Issue number one is, 40 to70% of your management population is due to retire in the next five years. There’s no question that this brain-drain reality is going to hit most organizations.

Issue number two: You then look at your talent pool to take those available positions, and you recognize that it’s weak. You look at your Generation X population and you don’t have enough talent. You then look at your Generation Y talent and those individuals are not yet ready to assume those roles of responsibility.

There’s no question that we’ve got a demographic issue that underlies the situation. However, I think the significant issue here is that most organizations are not doing a great job looking into the depths of their organizations and identifying the massive talent that exists in the younger people. There are future leaders—and organizations need to do a better job identifying these people and accelerating their development.

AMA: You talk about great leaders having a strong inner core and outer core. What exactly do you mean by this?
JM: When you think of the inner core of a leaders/executives, you’re looking at elements that are typically not seen by other people. They’re elements of character. To what extent are they courageous? To what extent are they diligent? What are their values, their beliefs? Their emotional makeup is certainly significant. And their behavioral tendencies. These are all the elements that reside within an individual, which can be very enduring in that they’re very difficult to change.

That inner core represents a couple of key elements that drive success. One is maturity. A leader who’s got a strong inner core is mature and has strong values. The maturity factor provides that leader with a foundation for being versatile. It is those two elements that really provide the bridge to their executing at a high level.

It’s been my experience that a leader’s strong inner core will predict a strong outer core. When you think of the outer core, you need to think about the skills and competencies that a typical leader executes: things like critical thinking, strategic thinking, decision making, talent leadership, talent management, drive for results, and so on.

A lot of organizations tend to forget the inner core when they measure these elements. They’ll use 360-degree surveys and performance reviews, but neglect to focus in on the inner core.

AMA: What are some of the mistakes that organizations are making right now when it comes to deciding who’s going to be promoted or who should be considered high potential?
JM: The biggest mistake is the belief that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If organizations work from this premise, it’s my prediction that they’re going to continue to make a lot of succession and high-potential selection mistakes. In reality, the skills and competencies required for success in a leader’s current role often have very little to do with the skills and competencies required for success in the next role. My good friend Marshall Goldsmith has talked about this for years: what got you here won’t necessarily get you there.

The best predictor of future behavior is you’ve got to understand the target you’re shooting for. You’ve got to understand the competencies required for success, in the role that you’re projecting that leader to attain. You’ve also certainly got to consider their past performance, but here’s the thing that’s missing: organizations are not assessing the leader’s capability, their can-do, to execute successfully in a new role. They’re not measuring and calibrating what I call the commitment or the motivation and drive to excel in that next role. And they’re certainly not measuring the alignment factor, which really is the must-do, and the degree of connectedness that that leader has to the mission of the organization. That’s the piece that’s missing.

AMA: What are your thoughts on the culture of the rock-star executive? I’m thinking of people like Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, or obviously, Steve Jobs. With all their success and meteoric rise and the heat and the light that surrounds these types of companies—do you think they’re committed to this type of leadership? Or is that a chapter yet to be written?

JM: A little bit of both. Jeff Bezos is someone who I think is a very good example of great leadership from the standpoint of a visionary individual with a strong character. I don’t mean to be negative, but in my world of talent management/leadership development research and work, there aren’t that many truly incredible business leaders out there. The challenge for organizations is to raise the bar on the execution of leadership.

One organization that we need to keep an eye on, by the way, is Yahoo. Yahoo just made a CEO change. If you really look at the decision around that CEO selection, one could conclude that Yahoo was not very diligent. You’ve got the chairman of the board saying that the decision was based upon technical expertise, rather than incredible visionary and leadership skills. I don’t want to disparage anybody, but I think we need to keep an eye on that.

Learn more about John Mattone’s books:
Talent Leadership: A Proven Method for Identifying and Developing High-Potential Employees

Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential

You can also explore AMA’s seminars on a broad array of Leadership topics.

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.